His mother read him to sleep every night, launching him on amazing adventures with an assortment of fantastic characters that would inspire him to become a writer himself one day.
His father was strong and pragmatic, both heroic and intimidating, and he instilled in his son a sense of dignity and a “can do” attitude.
Scott spent years playing in bands and eventually left music to concentrate on building a successful career in commercial real estate. When the real estate industry collapsed in 2008, he decided it was time to retire and write full time. That decision launched a prominent career as a novelist.
His Lance Underphal series of novels, about a crime scene photographer who sees dead people after his wife dies, have been well-received by critics and readers alike.
Michael Allan Scott Interview
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Books by Michael Allan Scott
Michael Allan Scott Transcript
Tim Knox: Michael Allan Scott is my guest today. Michael is an author who hails from the sunny state of Arizona; a former realtor who quit that business to start writing books and he’s doing such a fantastic job of it.
His books Dark Side of Sunset Point and Flight of the Tarantula Hawk feature an unlikely hero; a man named Lance Underphal who is a police photographer who also has psychic visions. His wife died, he starts seeing dead people, and the rest, they say, is history.
Michael talks about the underlying theme of his books and that is redemption, how someone can start off down and out, much like Lance does in the first book and over a series of books and time, redeem themselves and become whole again. Michael does a great job of that in his books.
This is a great interview. Michael really goes in-depth about how he got where he is, how he left a promising career to write full time, how he came up with the character of Lance, and how he mixes the supernatural and crime fiction to perfection.
So, one of my favorite interviews so far. Michael is a great guy, a great author, a lot you can learn from Michael Allan Scott and that starts now on today’s Interviewing Authors.
Tim Knox: Michael, welcome to the program.
Michael Scott: Thank you, Tim.
Tim Knox: It’s such a pleasure having you here. I’m a fan of your work. I spent some time today on your website and we’re going to talk about that. You have this whole creepy aesthetic thing working for you and I think it’s working really well. I think a lot of authors can learn from you. Before we get into it though, give us a little background on you.
Michael Scott: Certainly. I basically come from an aesthetic family. Both my parents were dabbling in the arts and from the time I was a child I was exposed to music and literature and art. My mother’s a painter and my father’s a photographer.
I really was steeped in it and never really went that direction. I actually went in commercial real estate and spent most of my adult life in commercial real estate, always kind of playing music in the background and writing in the background.
Finally 2008 hit and it all caved in and I dusted myself off and I looked around and I said, “Okay, I’m getting too old to start a new business. What do I want to do instead?” Writing was right there and that’s when I took up writing.
Tim Knox: You brought a lot of your background into the writing. We’ll talk about this in just a minute. We were kind of laughing on the pre-call about your writing will make someone think twice about becoming a realtor. Let’s go back in time a little bit though. Before you grew up and got a real job, did you always want to be a writer? Did you have that urge?
Michael Scott: It was actually less wanting to be than knowing I was. I more or less wanted to be a musician but I always thought I was a writer. I started off early on. I think my first experience was as a Boy Scout I got assigned to be the reporter for the Jamboree troop in 1964.
We went back to Valley Forge and we were going to interview John F. Kennedy and I thought, wow, what an opportunity. Of course in the meantime he was killed and I ended up interviewing Lyndon Johnson, what a disappointment.
Tim Knox: Boy that was not a great second was it? So really, even as a kid you had that. You just knew you were a writer. There was no question.
Michael Scott: Absolutely, yeah. It just came natural.
Tim Knox: Do you remember the first work of fiction that you wrote? Did you write fiction as a child?
Michael Scott: I wrote poems as a child.
Tim Knox: Were these poems you could read to your mother or were they typical little boy poems?
Michael Scott: Well no I could read them to mom. She was okay with that. I think I started writing short stories, I think my first one was actually in junior high. I had a literature teacher in high school who was a gem and helped me with the creative writing process and really started working on polishing my short stories at that time.
Tim Knox: Do you remember the first thing that you wrote that you thought might be good enough to… maybe not necessarily sell, but share with others?
Michael Scott: Well I always thought all of it was good. Wrong! So it took me a while to really come to an understanding of what’s commercially viable and what is for my own enjoyment. I’ve always written for my own enjoyment thinking that, well gee, that’s probably good enough. When did I learn that? Not until I got serious about it as a professional in 2008.
Tim Knox: So I think one of the things, a key point there – and I hear this from a lot of writers, especially the ones that are now doing it successfully – is you wrote for yourself rather than writing for someone else or for selling or whatever. Did you have a long break from the time you initially started writing but then you went into real estate and built a career? Were you writing during that time or did you just wake up in 2008 and say, okay now I’m going to write again?
Michael Scott: Well I actually started playing music professionally when I was 15. I did that until I was almost 30 before I gave it up. While I was in my mid-20s I started transitioning to real estate just because it was more money than playing music.
Tim Knox: There’s a great picture of you on your website with that music hair. Did you keep that hair when you were in real estate or did it come off?
Michael Scott: I actually wore a wig or attempted to wear a wig for my first few months in real estate and it was a no go. It just wouldn’t work. I was still writing fiction at that time, short stories. I gave up on the music and got more serious about the real estate and then kept writing. I finally found contests that I was submitting to, magazines, anything I could find – mostly science-fiction and horror. I just made a target or a goal to write something and enter it in every quarter of the Writers of the Future contest. That’s how I kept writing.
Tim Knox: So you kept writing and you kept submitting. Did you sell anything during that time?
Michael Scott: Absolutely not. I got more rejection slips than you can count.
Tim Knox: What kept driving you? Was it just the fact that you knew this is what you should do?
Michael Scott: Yes, just the love of it.
Tim Knox: How did you deal with the rejection? That’s always the big question.
Michael Scott: Well because of the nature of rejection at first I took it personally but I started getting all these form letters and realizing they’re not even really reading my stuff, okay. I kind of graduated out or steeled myself up from taking it personally and just looking at it more as a business. I have obviously a background in business as a commercial real estate business owner so as I accumulated business sense I was able to bring that to the table when it came to the writing business.
Tim Knox: So in 2008 is when you actively started writing full-time. What was the first book that came out of that effort?
Michael Scott: The first book was the first in the Underphal Series, which is called Dark Side of Sunset Pointe.
Tim Knox: Let’s talk about this because that book, Lance Underphal is a police photographer and you tell it better than I do. His wife passes away and he starts having psychic visions. Tell us about Lance and tell us about that book.
Michael Scott: Sure, well Lance is really kind of roped in as a freelance photographer and got sucked into some crime photography work as a freelancer working with a news reporter. He’s at the very bottom. He’s down and out. He’s been wiped out by the 2008 recession, whatever you want to call it, depression. At that point just as he gets wiped out financially, his wife is killed in a car crash. He’s about as low as you can go.
We start to bring him up the line from there. Part of his process in terms of trying to recover his life is his getting involved with the spirit of his wife. She comes to him and speaks to him and helps guide him through his troubles.
He’s actually… I don’t know how you could call it – maybe just out of the blue he gets a vision about a crime and is baffled by this. He doesn’t like it. It causes him physical problems, causes him mental problems, and doesn’t know what to do with it.
If it wasn’t for his wife speaking to him and helping him through this, he would be in a mental institution. He would be over.
So that’s how it starts.
Tim Knox: I find that such an interesting way to do it because he really is a reluctant hero. He’s down and out in every aspect of his life but then he gets involved with these crimes. How did you develop the connection between the violent crime and the supernatural? This is not your normal police procedure book.
Michael Scott: No, it isn’t. Well I really wanted to accomplish two things. First off, I love mysteries and I love writing mysteries and I wanted to bring a new element to that storytelling process. I mean we’ve all seen murder mysteries. We’ve read them all. I just needed to bring something new, add something new to give it a bit of a twist and the paranormal aspect was a natural for me.
It’s something that I don’t know that everyone really recognizes that they experience paranormal events but I bet you if they think about it, there’s been times in their lives where they’ve had some sort of extrasensory perception or some vision or intuition or something happened that you couldn’t quite classify as normal reality. I wanted to enhance that and bring that to life in the form of a fiction book.
Tim Knox: What’s weird is my wife tells me she’s going to haunt me long after she’s gone so I can relate to this book. One of the things I find interesting though is Lance is not your typical hero. He’s not the 6’5” Jack Reacher who can beat the crap out of everybody. When the book starts he really is kind of just a deadbeat in a dead-end world, isn’t he?
Michael Scott: Yes he is and that’s really why I have to bring in other characters, co-protagonists if you will, to help flesh out the book. Otherwise the guy is just too miserable.
Tim Knox: You would just have a sad sack comic.
Michael Scott: Yeah exactly.
Tim Knox: How much fun is it to write someone like Lance though?
Michael Scott: Well because I had a vision for where I’m taking him, it was okay to start off kind of in the back alley under the dumpster. As I go you’ll notice in the second book that I bring him up the line and he starts coming alive and doing better in life and he’s starting to get his life together. In the third book even more so and even more so in the fourth book. As he gains control over the psychic phenomenon that he’s experiencing he starts to do better in life.
Tim Knox: I think that’s such an interesting point. You kind of started with him at the bottom but in your mind you could see him coming out of that and progressing and really getting back involved in society as the books go. Your characters are really well fleshed out. How much thought do you put into every character? Do you do a background on everyone? Do you know the names of their parents and their grandparents, their shoe size? How deep into character development do you go?
Michael Scott: Well I don’t know if I’m quite that anal about it but in reality I have a character in mind and then in order to flesh them out as I go I will come up with their hat size or what color their eyes are or what school they went to or what their background is. I’ll start compiling notes and filling out that character as I go. That’s really how I write. I put a basic structure there similar to music. I’ll just put a basic structure there and then I’ll improvise on it and that’s literally how I approach it.
Tim Knox: One of the things I’ve found in all these interviews that I’ve done is there seems to be two schools of thought as far as presenting the character to the reader. Some authors feel like you need to describe the character down to a T but then there are other books that really there’s no description of the characters at all, even the main character, and I think the thought there is to let the reader develop that character in their mind. What are your thoughts?
Michael Scott: Well I’m of the opinion that writing is a joint effort. In other words, if I write in a vacuum then I don’t really have to worry about putting it on paper. I can just think it up and let it go but when you engage a reader now you’ve got a partnership if you will. They’re committing to generating or creating that book along with you. You have to give them enough information to create the character but if you do everything for them then there’s nothing for them to do and it’s not interesting.
Tim Knox: I love that point. I have not had anyone make it like that. You’re not writing for them; you’re bringing them along and they are going to help you develop the characters and develop the story. It really is kind of a partnership between you and the reader.
Michael Scott: Well when you start off as a reader and you go back to your roots as a reader, look at what you did when you were reading a book. I mean I imagined all of these worlds and these characters that I read about. That’s, to me, the fun of reading. That’s why reading is better than watching TV. You get to create all this stuff. So you have to respect that. You have to grant them the wherewithal to create that book along with you and I think that’s a key point.
Tim Knox: I think so too. One thing we mentioned earlier and we talked about on the pre-call is your books; you really do blend commercial real estate and these crime stories. Is this a throwback to your time in real estate? What is it that lends itself to crime for real estate?
Michael Scott: Well there’s no shortage of crime on this planet and that’s in any industry. I just happen to know real estate better than I know other industries so it was a natural for me. I take artistic license so I create, exaggerate whatever but the reality is that all of those things in that book are real. Now I’ve witnessed some of those things and I’ve embellished on those things but I didn’t write anything in there that’s never happened. You can take that for what it’s worth.
Tim Knox: The Lance Underphal books, the series – how many books do you have mapped out? Are you working on a new one now?
Michael Scott: I am. I’m about three chapters into the fourth book. The third book is in the editing phase and of course the second book was just released a couple months ago.
Tim Knox: Are you self-publishing this?
Michael Scott: I am.
Tim Knox: Let’s talk about that. So many authors want to find an agent, want to be traditionally published but nowadays more and more authors that I talk to are going the independent route. Talk a little bit about that. Did you pursue an agent or traditionally publishing before you decided to self-publish?
Michael Scott: Well literally for years, going back to all the short story writing I did. I accumulated more rejection notices than you can paper a room with. In reality I had a taste of that but I also decided in 2008 I was going to do this as a professional and I actually consulted a couple of professional authors, one who is self-published. I rejected his idea at first. I said, okay, I’m going to get me a database and do it like I do a business. I’m going to contact every agent out there, every publisher out there and I literally spent months doing just that with little or no results and I thought now what?
So I didn’t quit; I just found a different way to get the job done. I was reluctant to self-publish and actually signed with an independent publisher at first. That turned out to be a fiasco. I mean I was just so disappointed in their lack of performance and here I am giving them a big chunk of the income from the book – for what?
It’s been a learning experience to get me up to the point where I think I can self-publish successfully. I don’t do it by myself. I have editors. I have graphics design people that help me with the cover of the book. I have photographers. I have beta readers. I literally have surrounded myself with other professionals in those disciplines that help me put together a final product.
Tim Knox: So when you write a manuscript do you have an editor that reads it for you?
Michael Scott: Absolutely. In fact I just polished the third book and it’s going off to my editor here on July 1st and out to the beta readers as well.
Tim Knox: That’s one thing that I think a lot of authors don’t feel the need for. “I’ve written the book. I don’t need anyone to edit it. It’s as good as it possibly could be.” I’ve written books and it’s been my experience that a good editor makes a book all that much better.
Michael Scott: I think it’s a huge mistake for people that attempt to self-publish. It’s one of the flaws that I see and one of the slams on self-publishing is that books are so poorly written – bad grammar, missing words, misspelled words, right on up to just overwriting the heck out of them. I’ve seen all of those mistakes and I’ve made all those mistakes. You absolutely have to have good editors. At one point I had three editors before I finally landed with the one I’m with now and I’m real happy with her.
Tim Knox: One of the points that you make also is you need to approach this as a business. You’ve built a team. You’ve got editors, graphic artists, all these other folks. Talk about the importance of building that team because quite often authors are really very lonely people and they try to do everything themselves but the thing I’ve found and what you’re talking about is if you put a team together it really does help move it along.
Michael Scott: Well, no question. First off, if you just look at it from where your strengths and weaknesses are, okay. I love to write. I love it. I love to create. I just go all out when I write and I actually need an editor who will reign me in, one who is pragmatic and one who has a more practical… and this gal’s got a journalistic background so she’s very focused on does this make sense? If I can get it to make sense for her then I can get it to make sense for the rest of audience. That’s one aspect of it on the publishing side.
More importantly I think if you don’t approach it as a business, you’re doomed to fail. I don’t see how you can make it in as competitive of a marketplace as publishing is and book sales are, how you can possibly make it unless you approach it as a business. That not only includes the professional publishing side of it but the marketing and sales side of it as well.
Tim Knox: Right you have to understand all the aspects. It’s just not writing the book. You write it and they’re not going to come. You’ve got to do something with it.
Michael Scott: Well the writing’s the easy part.
Tim Knox: Talk a little about the marketing side. It’s been my experience that this is quite often where authors drop the ball, especially those that think I’ve written the greatest book ever and I’m going to have agents and publishers lined up. Then even if they go self-promote, a lot of them it’s like the old what do I do with this? Now that I’ve got this wonderful piece of literature what the hell do I do with it? What are your thoughts?
Michael Scott: Well there’s no question that there’s a real aversion for artists to self-promote. You run into that all the time. I see it in various communities that I’m involved in on Google+ and so forth. Why should I promote? You can write the most stunning, articulate, aesthetic piece of work ever to come out on a piece of paper and if no one knows about it, it’s over. No one’s going to buy the thing. You’ve got to get it out there. There’s just no other way to do it.
Tim Knox: I’ve had some authors who will say you just keep writing and writing and writing and eventually people will take notice of you and pick it up and go to your back catalogue. I tend to think like you do. If there’s not a horn being blown by someone, no one’s going to dance.
Michael Scott: I agree with that and I’ve heard that argument as well. While there is some merit to it, I look at that as just another form of promotion. If you’re just literally putting so much work out there that you have to get noticed, isn’t that a form of marketing? Sure.
Tim Knox: Now you approach this as a business. Let’s talk a little about your process. Do you write every day? Do you write on a schedule? What is your process?
Michael Scott: I write on a schedule, absolutely. In fact if you’re to look at my weekly schedule you’ll see blocks of time for writing, blocks of time for editing, blocks of time for marketing, blocks of time for social media marketing. I literally plan out my week that way.
Tim Knox: You mentioned social media, which seems to be such a huge marketing avenue for everyone and not just authors. Talk a little about how you use social media to get your brand out there and sell books.
Michael Scott: Well social media literally is a way to get attention. I don’t think there’s a direct correlation, at least initially, with social media and selling books. You see that mistake made on Twitter and Facebook and Google+ and all the social media avenues. You literally have to build a brand and get name recognition and then start selling books. I think social media helps the PR side of things get that brand name recognition.
Tim Knox: What are some of the things that you’ve done to build your brand?
Michael Scott: Well everything. I mean we’re on Twitter, on Facebook, Google+. We do book blog tours. We do discount. We’re on Google AdWords, both display and search ads. We’re employing every marketing technique that we can find.
Tim Knox: It really is a full-time job.
Michael Scott: Yes and I think it takes all of that. I don’t think you can just put all of your eggs in one basket and say well my Google+ page is going to be the way I sell books. No, you have to be everywhere.
Tim Knox: Right and if you’re not you’re missing potential readers and customers along the way.
Michael Scott: Agreed, yeah.
Tim Knox: Let’s talk a little more about your books. Again, I do like them – the mixture of the crime and the supernatural. Do you have plans to go into another genre or look at another series, to branch out the brand or is this always what you think you’re going to do?
Michael Scott: Well I started off approaching writing professionally the way I approach any business project. I simply put together a survey, went out there and looked at what books are people buying? What genres are commercially viable? The top of that list – and this is a few years ago now – is mystery, not necessarily murder mysteries but mystery/crime/thriller. I love doing that anyway. That’s the genre I chose.
Now bringing something new to it, the paranormal twist or aspect to it, allowed me to bring in other characters, develop more than one story. I think if I do something with this series I can do spin-offs. I’ve now developed at least one other P.I. character who shows up predominately in the third book and more in the fourth book. I could literally add an all new series featuring that particular protagonist.
Ultimately, the stories that intrigue me the most and the ones that reach me and that touch me the most are stories of redemption. I’m going to get out of mysteries eventually and series eventually and look to do those types of stories.
Tim Knox: What attracts you to that type of story?
Michael Scott: I think the way it makes you feel. A guy has a hardship or a girl goes through a hardship and she comes out on the other side a winner. It’s an old story but it’s a good one.
Tim Knox: You can’t beat a good redemption story, can you? You think Lance is going to be redeemed?
Michael Scott: Well he’s redeeming as we go.
Tim Knox: He’s evolving.
Michael Scott: Yeah, each book he gets a little better and does a little better. I don’t think it’s going to be one fell swoop in one book but I think by the time I retire Lance he’ll be a happy camper.
Tim Knox: I’m happy for him. Michael, this has been wonderful. A little advice if you will to end here to the audience, primarily authors who are writing or trying to write or marketing or trying to market. You’ve given great advice along the way but if you can, sum up. What’s your best advice to these folks?
Michael Scott: Well I always tell people that ask me about that, first and foremost if you can do anything else go do that.
Tim Knox: They say that about real estate too.
Michael Scott: Yeah. Secondly, if you’ve decided that writing is what you’ve got to do and that’s what you love to do then go whole hog. Go all in on the thing and make sure you learn the craft and the business side of it because you won’t be as successful as you can be without all of those elements in place.
Tim Knox: Super advice. Michael Allan Scott, the author of The Dark Side of Sunset Pointe, Flight of the Tarantula Hawk. What’s the name of the third book?
Michael Scott: Grey Days.
Tim Knox: And it continues the Lance Underphal series.
Michael Scott: Yes.
Tim Knox: He’s going to be redeemed as we go.
Michael Scott: He is.
Tim Knox: Michael, where can folks find out more about you and your work?
Michael Scott: My website is probably the first and foremost, which is just my name – MichaelAllanScott.com.
Tim Knox: Very good and we will post links to that as well. This has been a joy. When you get the new book out let’s do this again.
Michael Scott: Absolutely.
Tim Knox: Alright, man, have a good day.
Michael Scott: Thank you, Tim.